The pagan era ended when a conspiring duchess was dragged down into the flames

One of the dark villains of early Bohemian history is Duchess Drahomíra of Stodor, one of the last of the pagans. Technically, she converted to the new religion of Christianity, but secretly she still kept to the old ways and made sacrifices to the Slavic gods in private.

But that is not her biggest sin. She married Duke Vratislav I of Bohemia about 906. Drahomíra gave birth to at least six children: her sons were Wenceslas and Boleslav, who both succeeded their father as Bohemian dukes.

After Vratislav died in February 921, Drahomíra became regent for her son Wenceslas, who was too young to rule. This is the “Good King Wenceslas” of song and legend, though he was only a duke.

Tomb of Vratislav I

Tomb of Vratislav I at Prague Castle

Drahomíra had to share the government duties with her mother-in-law Ludmila, who also saw to the religious education of Drahomíra’s sons.

Ludmila, now regarded as a saint, gave the boys a Christian education, drawing them further from the influence of Drahomíra’s pagan ways.

But Drahomíra is alleged to have signed a pact with the Devil, agreeing to hinder efforts to spread Christianity. She put a plan into action to try to turn back the tide of the new religion.

drahomira assassins

Drahomíra hires assassins in a medieval illustration. Wikimedia commons

Not everybody likes their mother-in-law, but Drahomíra took a step further than most. She gave silver and horses to two of her guards, Tunna and Gomon, to kill Ludmila. They strangled her with her veil in September 921. The murder happened in the town of Tetín in what is now Central Bohemia.

With Ludmila out of the way, Drahomíra took measures against Christianity, and tried to restore the old ways. But Wenceslas reversed most of her efforts when he came of age in 924 or 925.

St Ludmila

Reliquary of St Ludmila. Wikimedia commons

Drahomíra wasn’t finished, though. Her younger son Boleslav murdered Wenceslas in the town of Stará Boleslav in 929 or 935. It has been widely suspected that Drahomíra put the idea in Boleslav’s head.

Boleslav repented his bad ways and turned back to Christianity, so all of Drahomíra’s scheming led to nothing in the end.

She became an outcast in her later years, rejected by the public for her deeds. She moved back and forth between castles, but found no friends left anywhere. Finally, she determined to leave Prague and Bohemia behind.

murder of wenceslas

The murder of Wenceslas, from a medieval illustration

But it was not to be. Her carriage left Prague Castle and got as far as what is now Loretánské náměstí. The round church of St Michael used to stand there. As the coach approached, bells signaled that it was time for prayer. The coach stopped and Drahomíra’s last remaining faithful servant went inside to pray. Drahomíra was furious at being left alone, on display in public. She cursed her fate and Christianity in general.

But she had long forgotten about her deal with the Devil. The Devil, however, had not. A chasm opened up in the square and sucked Drahomíra down, carriage and all, into the flames of Hell.

Her servant went to get help, but nobody dared to try to go into the smoking chasm to look for the carriage.

devil

Illustration of the Devil from the Devil’s Bible

The world was not rid of Drahomíra, though. Sometimes at night a fiery coach drawn by black horses can be seen in the area from midnight to 1 am, though nobody has reported seeing it recently and the square is under constant video surveillance due to it being next to a government building.

The spot where this happened was marked first by a fence to keep people from stepping on it and tempting fate, and then for a long time it was marked by Drahomíra‘s Column. But that was torn down in 1788 by an order from the City Council. 

Now, a large circle of black paving stones set against the white ones of the street marks the outline of where St Michael’s Rotunda (and a later Baroque replica chapel) used to be. A smaller circle shows the location of Drahomíra‘s Column.


Background

The date of birth of Drahomíra of Stodor is fairly uncertain. It is given as either 877 or 890, which is a wide gap. She died after 934 or 936. Her reign as Duchess consort of Bohemia was from 915 to 921, while she was wife of the Duke Vratislav I. She was regent of the Duchy of Bohemia from 921 to 924.

Her role in the murder of Ludmila is accepted as historical fact. Whether she had a hand in the murder of Wenceslas depends on the dates. If Wenceslas was killed in 935, as some sources claim, and Drahomíra died in 934 then she would have been dead before it happened.

St Wenceslas

Statue of St Wenceslas during a parade

Wenceslas and Ludmila both are regarded as Christian saints, and Wenceslas is still a national hero. Wenceslas Square in Prague is named for him, and there is a large equestrian statue of him at the top of the square. Wenceslas has his own legends, including that he will return at the head of an army of knights hidden inside a mountain called Blaník. They will come when Bohemia is in its darkest time.

Loretánské náměstí is home to several other legends, with Černín Palace, currently the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, home to a ghost of a vain countess. The Loreta across the square has legends about its bells. Inside the Loreta is a Black Madonna and a strange crucified bearded woman called St Wilgefortis.

St Wilgefortis in Prague

St Wilgefortis at the Loreta

The story of Drahomíra going directly to hell seems to be a way to make it seem like she at least faced some divine retribution for her life of alleged scheming and for her pagan ways. When the story came about is not clear, but her column definitely existed.

A building on Loretánské náměstí is still called House at Drahomíra’s Column (Dům U Drahomířina sloupu). One of its inhabitants was Hana Benešová, widow of the second Czechoslovak president Edvard Beneš. A statue of Edvard Beneš now stands near the site of the former column.

In 2011 it was announced that the Václav Havel Library would move to the building but so far that has not happened.


An article by Baba Studio with Raymond Johnston. Copyright Baba Studio, all rights reserved. Please contact us if you would like to syndicate or otherwise use this article.

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